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10 Things You Should Not Do in Belarus

In Europe’s “last dictatorship,” you should definitely be careful what you photograph and joke about. From European Radio for Belarus (ERB).

29 June 2017

Stay in the country without registration for more than five days.


If you live in a hotel for more than five days, the hotel staff will do it for you. But if you stay in an apartment or at a relative’s home, you need to register. Otherwise, when crossing the border, you will have problems, and will have to pay a fine.


Say “Belorussia” and “It’s very clean here.”


“Belorussia” was the Soviet name of the country, just like, for example, Moldavia was for Moldova. It’s correct to say “Belarus,” just as it is written in the documents of the UN. Many Belarusians don’t like it when their country is called “Belorussia.” You won’t get a black eye for saying it, but attitudes toward you will be better if you call the country by the correct name. Clean streets are the only things that tourists see in Belarus. And they often associate this with the government, which also annoys many Belarusians. We believe that we have much more than clean streets. For this reason, it’s better not to say anything about them.


A view of Minsk. Image via Александр Кузнецов/Flickr.


Use Russian rubles or other currency.


To pay in Belarus you can only use Belarusian rubles, or a credit card in any currency. It is illegal to accept Russian rubles, dollars, and other currency anywhere. But in Belarus there is no problem with currency exchange; you can confidently exchange money in any bank, without the risk of getting an undervalued rate. The exchange rate is almost the same everywhere, there is no commission, and they issue a receipt.


Joke about bombs in the metro or airport.


You can easily be thrown in jail for making such jokes in Belarus. And this has already happened. A Russian woman at the airport security joked about a bomb in her purse, but the aviation security staff had the last laugh. She had to spend some time in a detention center and then a few months under house arrest. The most harmless joke about this will turn out to be taxing for you.


Photograph the KGB and train stations.


That's actually possible, but risky. In Belarus there is a list of facilities that you are not allowed to be photograph. Moreover, the police won’t show this list to anyone; it is for internal use. But there were occurrences when tourists were detained for attempts to photograph the civil registration building and a movie theatre in Iwye, a city in the Hrodna region in nortwestern Belarus. A photographer from Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian newspaper, was detained for taking a picture of the Academy of Sciences. But, as a rule, no one touches the tourists.


Drink liquor in the street.


In Belarus you are not allowed to drink alcohol in the street, not even beer. You can’t even drink it on the balcony of your own home (or hotel). In public places you can only have it in special, open squares near cafes.


Park on the sidewalk.


Especially in the center of the city. This is often violated by drivers with Russian license plates. In Minsk, such automobiles can be towed to an impoundment lot. Citizens themselves often take photos of these violations and send them to a special communication channel of the capital’s police called “Interception.”


Go to Russia through Belarus by car.


Foreigners can only enter Russia through international border checkpoints. But there are simply none on the border between Belarus and Russia. For this reason, you’re not allowed to drive through Belarus in order to reach Russia. There is no official border crossing between the countries, but passports are checked. Ukrainians and Polish people are turned around and sent to international border checkpoints, the closest ones being in Ukraine, Latvia, or the Minsk airport.


Pass by the Central Department Store without stopping.


This place is unique. People come here to drink beer or coffee with pastries. Here you can meet a homeless man alongside a famous author treating him to a beer. And you should have a look at the stucco on the walls and ceilings.


Walk drunk in the metro.


Or if you are a young woman you should wear your high heels confidently. There was actually such an occurrence in Minsk. Blogger Elena Stogova claimed that she drank a little champagne while wearing heels. But the metro’s security decided that the young woman was drunk and did not let her on the metro. Security really does not allow drunk people into the metro in Minsk. Of course they do not make you take a breathalyzer test, but they look at the way you walk.

Vitalii Rugain is a staff journalist and the Internet editor for the Minsk-based European Radio for Belarus (ERB). The original version of this article, in Russian, was published on the ERB website. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission.


Translated by Anna Azarova and Zhi-Shui Hsu. 

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